The Chosen Seed: The Dog-Faced Gods Book Three, p.1Sarah Pinborough
The Chosen Seed: The Dog-Faced Gods Book Three (DOG-FACED GODS TRILOGY)
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Also by Sarah Pinborough
‘There is no truth. There is only perception’
He pulls his coat tighter around his thin frame and tucks his chin into his chest. The year is starting to die and its bitterness at that fact is clear in every bite of the wind that attacks him. The young woman in the doorway gazes up, her eyes already bleary. There is a mixture of awe and confusion in her expression. Soon, he is sure, there will be something else.
‘For this is the word of your God,’ he says, smiling softly. ‘Spread it.’
She opens her mouth for a moment but he turns and walks away before she can blurt out whatever it is she wants to – there will not be anything original to hear. The muttered thanks of the junkie doorway-dwellers is always the same; he’s seen enough of them to know that, this night, and the one before, and the one before that. He has been busy spreading his word in the alleyways and under the bridges, where the invisible congregate. It gives him a quiet sense of satisfaction that eases his own bitterness.
He leaves her – high, and now dying – and strolls through the city streets. It’s creeping towards midnight, but the capital never sleeps. He watches the smiling, bright faces around him. Perhaps now is the time to spread his word a little wider.
A couple laugh and lean in to each other. The man is smoking, which is why they are out in the freezing night rather than enjoying the warmth within, but the cold doesn’t appear to affect them. Both wear wedding rings, but he doubts they are wedded to each other. There is a flush of a drunken office flirtation surrounding them, and he can see in the woman’s face that her own husband is a million miles from her mind. This man’s hands and touch and charm are all she wants tonight. She’s feeling young and sexy again, herself, not just a mother and wife.
He goes inside and buys himself a drink, the same brand of beer that the woman is drinking, and stands behind them. No one pays him any attention. It’s late and the world appears to be filled with good cheer. Here and there he sees a flicker of gold, but the Glow is so weak it’s almost an embarrassment. The woman and man have none.
Their drinks are sitting on the windowsill of the pub and it takes barely a second to do what needs to be done to her beer. He waits patiently, and after a moment her companion goes inside to find a toilet and she reaches for the bottle. He watches her swallow and then comes alongside, smiling as if he too is having the time of his life, which perhaps, in some perverse way, he is.
‘Happy Hallowe’en,’ he says, and clinks his bottle against hers.
She smiles and then drinks.
‘For this is the word of your God.’ He doesn’t smile, and her own expression wavers. ‘Spread it.’
‘What did you say?’
He doesn’t answer but turns and walks away, dropping the half-full beer bottle in a bin as he does so. He feels satisfied. He’s found a new market.
Cass didn’t turn around until he heard the tentative steps coming through the doors behind him. The church was quiet and he’d picked a row near the back, away from the two old women busily arranging flowers and polishing silver. Not that they were paying him any attention; he’d lit a candle and now he was moving his mouth silently and that was enough for them to think him one of the fold. It didn’t take much these days – the Church was a club desperately in need of new members.
He raised his hand to the elderly man clutching a small suitcase, but even then it took Father Michael a couple of seconds to recognise him. He hurried over, looking nervous.
‘Cass,’ he said, his eyes searching Cass’ face for some trace of guilt or innocence. ‘You’ve lost weight. And the hair—’
‘Looking like Cass Jones might get me unwanted attention. And having a hole blown through your shoulder can make you drop a few pounds.’
‘Of course, of course.’ Father Michael looked apologetic. ‘But are you okay? You just disappeared— I was worried. I was surprised to hear from you, but I can’t say that I wasn’t pleased …’
‘A friend’s been looking after me,’ Cass said, then, ‘I’m getting there.’
There was a moment’s awkward silence where all the allegations hurled at Cass via the world’s press hung between them.
Cass broke the silence. ‘Thanks for bringing the stuff. I appreciate it.’
‘It’s fine.’ Father Michael smiled. ‘The police haven’t been back to the house, not since your troubles started. I presume they were just checking to make sure you weren’t hiding out down there – as if you’d be that stupid. As if you’d killed those people— I wonder sometimes if anyone ever knows anyone at all.’
‘You don’t think I’m guilty?’ He tried to hide his surprise.
‘Not for a moment, Cass.’ Father Michael was looking at him with something close to pity. ‘You have to ask?’
‘Everyone else does.’
‘People can get blinded by evidence.’ The old priest winked. ‘Why do you think no one believes in God any more?’
Cass almost laughed aloud as an unexpected warm rush of gratitude flooded him. He hadn’t wanted to call, but he hadn’t been able to come up with any other way to get the photographs and documents out of his dead parents’ house. He’d expected suspicion, but on reflection maybe he had just been blaming Father Michael for his own father’s crimes, simply because the priest had been his father’s friend, and one of the few people close to him still alive.
‘I brought you something else.’ The priest tugged at his pockets. ‘Two things actually. The first is this.’
‘A cashcard?’ Cass stared at the plastic. ‘I can’t take that.’
‘The account has a few thousand pounds in it – it’s not a
‘It was my dad who gave Luke away.’ The words were bitter, but gave no real indication of the rage Cass felt inside.
Another silence, then, ‘Castor Bright?’
The priest let out a long sigh. Cass wished he had been a little more surprised – how much did Father Michael really know – or suspect – about Mr Bright and the Network? He’d been there, all those years ago, when Cass’ parents had been brought together by the elusive, ageless man. He’d seen Alan Jones change from ambitious war correspondent to quiet, religious village-dweller, and he’d stayed close to both Alan and Evelyn Jones.
‘Sometimes,’ the priest said, his eyes wandering over to the flickering candles around the nearest pillar, ‘situations get out of control. People make promises they have no intention of keeping. The future is a long way away.’
‘Did you know?’
‘No, but I knew your father.’ The lines in the old man’s face deepened. ‘Since Christian died – and with everything that’s come after – I’ve thought a lot about your family. Christian was increasingly fatalistic, those last few times I saw him – and your father was too, after he’d discovered his faith. At the time I thought it was just the peace finding him, but now I’m not so sure: now I think he was simply resigned. As Christian was.’ He looked at Cass. ‘They didn’t have your strength, and I think Christian knew that.’
‘Christian was a good man.’
‘Goodness and strength are two different things.’
Cass noted that the priest didn’t try to persuade him of his own goodness. He didn’t care – he knew exactly how far into the grey spectrum between the black and white of good and evil he had ventured.
‘So what are you going to do?’ Father Michael asked.
‘Find Luke.’ The answer was fast. Cass had spent the past two months thinking about what he was going to do next. ‘Go after Mr Bright and fuck him and his Network up. Do my best to keep the others off my back until it’s done.’
Father Michael nodded. ‘Well, you always were the over-achiever of the family.’ He smiled softly. ‘And you know where I am if you need me.’
‘Thanks.’ Cass frowned. ‘You said you brought two things?’
‘Ah, yes – brain’s not what it was.’ He handed Cass a folded piece of paper. ‘This man, Dr Stuart Cornell: he had an obsession with your father for a while. Used to go through phases of calling incessantly, and turning up at the house, shouting at your dad that he needed his help to expose the truth. He might just be a crackpot, but he used to be a pretty eminent theologian at one time, and with all this madness surrounding you – well, he may be worth a visit. Can’t do any harm.’
‘Thanks.’ Cass stared at the name on the paper, then tucked it into his jeans pocket.
‘So what now?’
‘Now you go first. I’ll give it fifteen minutes or so before I leave. I think we’re safe – if anyone had followed you, I’d be arrested by now.’ He sounded more confident than he felt. It wasn’t only the police who were looking for him. He was sure that Mr Bright hadn’t lost interest in his well- or not-so-wellbeing, not to mention the strange girl and old man who had rescued him after he’d been shot.
The awkwardness returned as the priest fumbled for an appropriate goodbye. Cass could sense that the older man wanted to hug him, but he couldn’t bring himself to relax into the gesture. Instead he held out his hand. ‘It’s good to see you,’ he said, meaning it. ‘I’ll keep in touch.’
‘Make sure you do, Cass Jones. Make sure you do.’ The priest gave him another smile before heading to the aisle. He faced the altar and made the sign of the cross, then turned and left the church. He didn’t look back.
Twenty minutes later, and Cass Jones was strolling through Loughton, heading up the High Street towards his most recent home. He’d been here for two weeks and he was itching to get on with what he needed to do. He was almost healed – if he ignored the constant ache in his shoulder and the sparking pins and needles in his mainly useless left hand. The movies made a shot to the shoulder look like a scratch, but the reality was different: Cass was pretty sure he was lucky be alive at all, and thankful the joint itself hadn’t been shattered, otherwise no amount of physio would give him the use of his arm back.
As it was, his grip was so weak it was barely there, and that didn’t look like it would be changing any time soon. His memory of Brian Freeman was now tinged with a greater respect: the man must have nearly bled to death sitting in the back of that snooker hall all night with the Yardies. Cass wasn’t sure whether that made Freeman either brave or stupid, but it did make him one fucking hard bastard. And maybe that made Cass either brave or stupid for having been the one to send him away all those years ago.
The December wind blew through the darkening night, and it felt strange to have it lifting his grown-out hair – the usual dark number 3 crop had given way to a shaggy light brown, thanks to a bottle of Just for Men. What with that and the weight he’d lost over the past two months, he wasn’t sure even his own mother would recognise him, let alone DS Armstrong or Commander Fletcher. Still, he kept his head down and his back curved as he walked, changing his natural shape: even out here on the edge of Epping Forest, a corner of north-east London that was more Essex than the city, it was better to be safe than sorry.
Feeling the weight of the small suitcase in his good hand exacerbated the weakness of his left, making him feel vulnerable, but there was nothing he could do about that: he needed those photographs and documents he’d found at his parents’ house after Christian had shot himself. There were answers in the past, he was sure of it.
As the streetlights flickered on, he walked alongside the commuters making their way back from the Underground to the safety of their homes.
Despite his inclination to avoid eye contact, it was hard not to stare: why were some of them wearing surgical masks? Was this some new terrorist threat? Maybe more Interventionists at work? He really needed to watch the news. At least he wasn’t featuring on it quite so much these days, although with the corruption trials of his fellow ex-officers about to get under way, that was bound to change. He was glad the cases hadn’t been thrown out of court after he went on the run, despite the best efforts of the defence teams. That was something. Claire May, Christian, Jessica and the poor kid they’d all thought was Luke, his nephew: they deserved justice.
Passers-by gave each other broad berths and suspicious glances, pulling their coats tight around their body. Whatever was going on, maybe a new bird flu outbreak, perhaps something more sinister, the mild panic it was causing was clearly visible.
Cass finally reached the front door to his haven and knocked four times in the agreed rhythm, then waited, his eyes level with the peephole.
The door opened and Mac grinned at him through the stream of smoke coming from the cigarette clamped between the big man’s teeth. He peered up and down the street before locking up.
‘You’ve got a visitor, son,’ he said gruffly.
By the time he’d followed the brisk PC down to the interview rooms, Dr Tim Hask was not only out of breath, but he’d managed to spill much of the foul substance that passed for coffee in Paddington Green nick all over his shirt and vast belly. At least that would save him having to drink it, he thought stoically.
‘What’s the rush?’ he said. ‘It’s late – I was just heading home for the day. Is this about our missing friend?’ Hask kept his tone light, but he was aware of both the tension and his own conflicting emotions regardin
‘No,’ DI Charles Ramsey said in his transatlantic drawl, ‘we’ve still got nothing on him.’
‘Yet,’ Armstrong added. ‘We’ll get him; I promise you that.’
Hask was sure that Armstrong was the only one of the three of them convinced of Cass Jones’ guilt, and he was also sure that Armstrong resented Hask’s and Ramsey’s hesitance in the face of overwhelming evidence. Armstrong was clearly bitter about Jones, and Hask wondered if it was in part because he envied him. People stuck by Cass. There was no way to explain to the sergeant the kind of loyalty that Cass Jones inspired in people – he’d just have to figure that out for himself. Or not.
‘So what is it?’ Hask asked again. ‘What’s so important you need to drag me down here so urgently?’
Ramsey glanced at Armstrong before answering, ‘It’s this surge in Strain II cases. We think it’s being spread intentionally.’
‘The increase in infection is outside of the expected social groups as well as within – and it’s been getting much worse over the past month.’ Armstrong looked grim.
‘It was bound to happen – it’s human nature to be careless,’ Hask said. ‘What makes you think it’s anything other than that?’
‘The bosses have had a call from Charing Cross Hospital, someone on the bug wing. There’re two things: firstly, whatever is infecting people is still Strain II, but it’s hitting the patients harder and faster – they found that out when several sex workers developed symptoms just a week or so after they’d been pronounced clean at their regular check-ups. Until then, they had presumed these new cases had been infected for a while before they started showing.’
‘You’re saying someone’s somehow mutated the bug?’ Hask’s stomach felt heavy. Strain II was dangerous enough without people messing around with it.
‘Something’s certainly given it some punch.’
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